A stop in the hot, dusty afternoon in a stinking little bus-stop made everyone alight from the truck in a truly depressing fashion and in a languid disposition that I trust would bear similarity to that of short-changed Christians descending to hell. Everyone alighted in this sad humor. Everyone, that is, except yours truly. I jumped down with that celebrated “spring in the step”. (Later when I decide to do a video version of this blog, this is where I somersault out of the truck Ninja-style!) All those trite, feelgood quotes must have been uttered by one euphoric cyclist having dodged a string of hardships and written by another who shared the mishaps. Wait for me, Ethiopia!
But hold. There is something to be said of the first impressions of this intriguing border town. There is a small river that cuts across it and serves as the border between Kenya and Ethiopia. That is, the town spreads in both countries but it is considered two distinct towns; Moyale-Ethiopia and Moyale-Kenya. And either sides of the border are clearly distinguishable. A wide, clean Ethiopian tarmac road starts right at the border and at a steel and concrete bridge over the small river. The Ethiopian side is greener. It is cooler and cleaner. Vehicles keep right. And, as I learnt by and by, it’s cheaper. I could not suffer to live another minute on the Kenyan side of the border and be pitied. I pushed my companion towards the immigration offices to have my passport stamped.
I know, my dear friends, that you are not the queer sort that derive joy from reading about obnoxious processes in government offices. It is cruel enough to have to read a blog with a thousand typos. But to be dragged through descriptions of drowsy, ill-dressed Kenyan immigration officers behind dusty and cluttered desks whipping a leaky pens in the air to induce them to write; or to hear of equally slow but smarter, uniformed Ethiopian counterparts whose entire knowledge of the English language is distressingly slight, whose entire vocabulary towards this end is regrettably not more than ten simple words. No, sirs. I would not take you through such descriptions. This story instead continues after having my patience severely abused by the said government officials that I have almost described.
I promptly begun by riding up and down the main street of Moyale-Ethiopia looking for an agreeable hotel to spend the approaching night. Agreeable in this case meant cheap (or free) and with a shower. It is a remarkable thing what political borders can do to a familiar language, culinary tastes and cultures. On language, hotel or “hotteella” means a pub with rooms for rent while “restaurant” is what I was looking for- an eating place. I walked in and out of several hotteellas before my ignorance was remedied by a couple of beauties preparing coffee outside a “restaurant”. I must protest it might not have been their beauty that drew me to them, but the most wonderful aroma of coffee and smoldering myrrh. A most hypnotizing thing as has ever been smelt. But I could be wrong. I now know how easily addictive habits are picked by tired, hungry, thirsty and infatuated people in the afternoons. (How coffee now gives me contented elations like those illicit adventures we used to engage in our teenage years).
Not much achievement can be reported to have been accomplished during the rest of that afternoon for it was squandered trying to learn Amharic and sipping “buna”- the maddeningly strong and bittersweet coffee. I know I should be ashamed by that confession but I trust you will not be quick to judge me, dear friends, when you learn that those services were rendered by strangely beautiful faces. Strange because those kinds of faces are only seen on air-brushed models in glossy girly magazines. And when they flashed their rows of ivory in their mouths, it was enough to excuse the wise King Solomon for growing tired of always being wise after meeting the Ethiopian queen from Sheba. (Or rather, see his transcendental wisdom!). I found my “hotteella” towards nightfall.
I spent the next day cleaning my bags, stocking up on water and sugared snacks that I would need in the following days, while sampling hot and spicy Ethiopian dishes and intoxicating myself with more coffee. Finally forcing myself to rest, I was to start cycling through Ethiopia on the morrow.